Anna Evans

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.

A compelling journey into the depths of trauma's hidden imprints on our minds and bodies.

The Body Keeps the Score

The book has gotten 4.43 ⭐️ on GoodReads.

“In this compelling book we learn that as our minds desperately try to leave trauma behind, our bodies keep us trapped in the past with wordless emotions and feelings.”
– Stephen W. Porges, PhD, professor of psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Trauma is a widespread experience that affects not only combat soldiers and refugees but also ordinary individuals, our friends, families, and neighbours. It leaves lasting traces on our minds, emotions, biology, and relationships. Traumatic events can be overwhelming, causing unbearable emotions and vulnerability.

Healing from trauma is a complex journey, but acknowledging and addressing its effects can pave the way toward redemption and resilience. Today we are reviewing an incredibly popular book that explores the deep dark corners of trauma: ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

Author’s background

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a dedicated researcher, has devoted his career to understanding how individuals, both children and adults, respond to traumatic experiences.

Bessel van der Kolk (r)

His expertise lies in translating cutting-edge discoveries from neuroscience and attachment research into the development and assessment of various treatments for traumatic stress in both child and adult populations.

Back in 1984, Dr. van der Kolk established one of the pioneering clinical and research centres in the United States, solely focused on studying and treating traumatic stress among civilian populations. This centre has played a significant role in training numerous researchers and clinicians who specialise in the field of traumatic stress research and treatment.

Among his notable contributions, Dr. van der Kolk conducted the initial studies on the effects of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) on PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Additionally, he was part of the first team to use neuroimaging techniques in understanding how trauma affects brain processes. Moreover, his groundbreaking research shed light on the connection between Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and deliberate self-injury, tracing their roots back to trauma and neglect experienced in early childhood.

What is the book about?

‘The Body Keeps the Score’ hailed as one of the best resources of the decade, addresses its wide-ranging impacts on psychiatric, physical, emotional, and behavioural aspects. The book covers brain-body integration, its effects on the developing brain, and various trauma symptoms, highlighting the limitations of conventional treatments like medication and cognitive-behavioural therapy. Instead, it explores successful options like EMDR, neurofeedback, yoga, and unconventional therapies, emphasising the importance of tailoring treatments to individuals and their specific traumas.

Key takeaways from ‘The Body Keeps the Score’

1Trauma’s widespread impact

The book emphasises that trauma is more prevalent in society than often acknowledged. It can result from various experiences, including childhood abuse, accidents, combat, and other life-threatening events.

2Phycological trauma leads to negative physical effects

Trauma can have significant physical effects on the body, leading to chronic health problems and conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune disorders.

3Trauma can affect the brain’s structure

Trauma affects the brain’s structure and function, particularly the areas responsible for emotional regulation, memory, and stress responses. This can lead to emotional dysregulation, memory disturbances, and increased vulnerability to stress.

4The importance of emotional processing

The book emphasises the need for trauma survivors to process their emotions fully. Traditional talk therapy may not be enough, and alternative therapies like somatic experiencing, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and yoga are explored as effective approaches.

5Body-based therapies can help healing

Body-based therapies that focus on sensations and physical experiences can help trauma survivors reconnect with their bodies and address the physical and emotional aspects of trauma.

6The significance of relationships

Healing from trauma often involves the development of supportive, healthy relationships. Connection and social support can be crucial in the recovery process.

7The impact on children

Childhood trauma can have severe and long-lasting effects on development and mental health. Early intervention and support are vital for helping children recover from traumatic experiences.

8Prolonged trauma can lead to Complex PTSD

The book discusses Complex PTSD (C-PTSD), which can develop as a result of prolonged or repeated trauma. C-PTSD symptoms can differ from those of single-incident PTSD and may require specialised treatment.

9Hope and resilience

While trauma has a profound impact on individuals, the book also highlights the human capacity for resilience and the potential for healing, even in the face of significant adversity.

Table of contents

  • Praise for the body keeps the score
  • Title page
  • Copyright
  • Dedication
  • Prologue: facing trauma
  • Part one: The rediscovery of trauma
  • 1. Lessons from Vietnam veterans
  • 2. Revolutions in understanding mind and brain
  • 3. Looking into the brain: the neuroscience revolution
  • Part two: This is your brain on trauma
  • 4. Running for your life: the anatomy of survival
  • 5. Body-brain connections
  • 6. Losing your body, losing yourself
  • Part three: The minds of children
  • 7. Getting on the same wavelength: attachment and attunement
  • 8. Trapped in relationships: the cost of abuse and neglect
  • 9. What’s love got to do with it?
  • 10. Developmental trauma: the hidden epidemic
  • Part four: The imprint of trauma
  • 11. Uncovering secrets: the problem of traumatic memory
  • 12. The unbearable heaviness of remembering
  • Part five: Paths to recovery
  • 13. Healing from trauma: owning yourself
  • 14. Language: miracle and tyranny
  • 15. Letting go of the past: emdr
  • 16. Learning to inhabit your body: yoga
  • 17. Putting the pieces together: self-leadership
  • 18. Filling in the holes: creating structures
  • 19. Rewiring the brain: neurofeedback
  • 20. Finding your voice: communal rhythms and theater
  • Epilogue: choices to be made
  • Acknowledgements
  • Appendix: consensus proposed criteria for developmental trauma
  • Disorder
  • Resources
  • Further reading
  • Notes
  • Index

Strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews


  • Contains some of the best, and most effective cures for trauma sufferers, which can steer patients toward the help they need.

  • Offers valuable information on the connection between trauma and physical pain.

  • Сan help in understanding why people may act the way they do and how actions and events may cause trauma to an individual.


  • Contains a very controversial case of a Vietnam war veteran, in which the author shows more empathy to the man who committed murder and rape, than to his victims.

  • The book can be triggering for many, including survivors of abuse.

Best quotes from ‘The Body Keeps the Score’

“Social support is a biological necessity, not an option, and this reality should be the backbone of all prevention and treatment.”
“Recent research has swept away the simple idea that ‘having’ a particular gene produces a particular result. It turns out that many genes work together to influence a single outcome.”
“Body awareness puts us in touch with our inner world, the landscape of our organism. Simply noticing our annoyance, nervousness, or anxiety immediately helps us shift our perspective and opens up new options other than our automatic, habitual reactions.”

Final takeaway

‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ by Bessel van der Kolk is a powerful exploration of trauma’s impact on the human body and mind. It presents effective cures for trauma, sheds light on the connection between trauma and physical pain, and helps in understanding human behaviour and the causes of trauma. However, the book faces criticism for a controversial case involving a Vietnam war veteran, where the author’s empathy towards the perpetrator outweighs that towards the victims. Additionally, some readers may find the book triggering, especially survivors of abuse.

Where to buy

You can purchase the book at Amazon. It’s available in many formats, including paperback, hardcover, spiral-bound, Kindle and audio versions.

Healthypedia FAQ

‘The Body Keeps the Score’ explores the profound impact of trauma on the human body and mind, delving into its neurological and physiological effects and the connections between trauma and physical pain.

Trauma can alter brain structures and functions and have significant impacts on other areas of the body, including the immune system. The changes caused by trauma can be adaptive responses meant to help survival but may persist long after the traumatic event.

Trauma can manifest in various ways, including hypervigilance, nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, depression, dissociation, and emotional numbness. Physical symptoms like headaches, digestive problems, and chronic pain may also be present.

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